“That creature - that rotting thing - is a living, breathing coagulation of human evil. And if the only thing I ever do in this world is drive him out of it then my life will not have been wasted.”
I think we’re even now…
“Look at me! Can’t do it, not now.”
Being Mary Watson was the only life worth living…
The weight of the pause was thousands of unlived days, a million unsaid words. If only the man in front of him could hear what he could – who he could – and know that he was being held to account. There was no warmth to be felt. But then John Watson held out his hand to Sherlock.
Sherlock stood and willingly placed his hand into that of his best friend. The man whose life he had blighted.
Sherlock felt his arm twisted roughly and his middle sink. While John’s eyes were cast down, Sherlock experienced a rush of adrenaline which in turn sent his nausea rocketing, making him dizzy almost to an extent that would be impossible to hide. Why his body prepared him to fight in that instant he dreaded to imagine. Sadness, real and deep, washed over him.
I will not defend myself, John.
Not in the end.
John had revealed Sherlock’s forearm to the room at large and Sherlock hooked gratefully into the spike of annoyance which resulted from the unspent adrenaline mixed with the looks in the eyes of the people in the room. Flicking from the bruises to his face. Pitying.
“Yeah well, they’re real enough, I suppose,” John threw Sherlock’s hand out of his own at the same moment Sherlock snatched it away.
“Why would I be faking?” He turned. He needed the space.
“Because you’re a liar!”
I made a vow.
“You lie all the time. It’s like your mission.” Sherlock felt rooted to the spot. John’s voice was hard with the shame and fear and desperate misery Sherlock felt in his own breast. Like the identical poles of two magnets brought close, the draw retained the potential to be inescapable but for its devastating wrongness. The push, however, was no less strong.
“I have been many things, John, but when have I ever been a malingerer?!”
I did not lie!
“You pretended to be dead for two years.”
Of course that’s how you’d see it.
“Apart from that!”
John silenced him with a pointed finger like a parent admonishing a recalcitrant child. He even started his next attack with the word ‘listen’. Sherlock was pig sick of being corralled and patronised, he wondered for a moment whether it was worth it.
Make it look like you mean it.
Sherlock threw himself into the chair with genuine petulance, Mary’s voice in his mind and John’s anger in his view. Now John was refusing to accept the reality Sherlock had been ordered to, talking about needing confirmation. Ideal. The clock was ticking. How he would love for her name to be spoken just in time.
He had little time and even less patience to unpack the achingly familiar but horribly disquieting feeling which arose when John confirmed Sherlock’s every suspicion…
“Do you hear me? I said Molly Hooper.”
I am not wrong.
Molly could not have been more herself if she had been self-impersonating. Stood on the doorstep a few moments later; the clothes, the coat, the… hands. The look of betrayal she was yet to fully understand. The fact she knew that – she knew - and she was still here, just where he told her to be. The roiling in Sherlock’s core pushed him even further into the depths of his own self-parody. She didn’t react, not even a flash of hurt told in her big brown eyes, when he shot the sort of barb of which he would once have been proud. He felt his features almost crumble in the wake of that fact.
Too many years, too many words.
He almost fell in the road. Threw himself onto the gurney in the ambulance, covering his face with his hands and begging the world to stop spinning, to cease in its implosion.
I cannot fake it.
I am no longer capable…
The door of the ambulance slammed closed and Sherlock dragged his hands across his face quickly, sitting up and sniffing, arranging his face to nonchalance. She’d love that.
“What are you doing?” Sherlock asked. As the vehicle lurched its way along, Molly had begun gathering equipment, a chart, keeping her back to him and her thoughts to herself.
“I’m over here.”
She turned sharply and his smile dropped under her gaze. He cleared his throat, drew his dressing gown around him.
“There’s no need,” he informed her. “I’ll just give you the run down, if you want.”
“How exactly will I give John a prognosis?”
“In a succinct manner, ideally.”
Molly rubbed her temples with her fingertips. He knew the feeling. The ambulance turned a corner and Molly wobbled, almost fell. Sherlock reached for her, to steady her, but she caught herself with her hand on the rail. She sat down, perched at the very end of the stretcher, away from him.
“If this isn’t even real, Sherlock, what am I doing here?”
Sherlock took a breath, fixed his eyes on Molly’s, watched the look in them intensify and her lips part.
“It had to be you…”
“Because you will get upset when you realise the extent of my using and the state of my health. Another doctor wouldn’t have the emotional reaction I’m looking for. Unless they read the blog, of course.”
Molly drew a harsh breath. “How f… how dare you?”
“It’s very easy, actually, Molly. I am a user, after all. I am selective, and I take advantage of what is available to me.”
“Don’t you just,” Molly’s nose crinkled, brow tense, her eyes ablaze. She closed them for a moment, shook her head. “Well, just remember that things change. Opportunities pass, Sherlock.”
“Exactly - welcome to the party, Molly Hopper!” Sherlock pulled his coat from under him. Checking the pockets, he found exactly what he was looking for. Closer inspection quickly told him his plan was working well. “Now that you’ve caught up, we need to discuss how you will present your findings to John when we arrive at the studio. Detail is not necessary. Time is of the essence and I need him to get on board as quickly as you have.”
“He already knows you’re using, he said so,” Molly’s voice was haughtily accusatory.
“No he didn’t. He said he needed a second opinion.”
“He wants to see the best in you, for some reason. That hasn’t changed. He’s as much of an idiot as you.”
“Oh I don’t know, his deductive skills seem to have improved of late.”
“What, because he decided staying away from you was a good idea?”
Sherlock braced his arm on the surface opposite him, vertigo rising again and sending a compulsive tremor through him.
“No!” He snapped, squeezing his eyes closed.
Will the fall ever stop?
What happens when it does?
“…John knew I would need you.”
Molly stood sharply, making Sherlock jump as she snatched up a blood pressure cuff.
“I thought you said you got me to come so I would cry over you.”
She shoved the band towards him. He silently acquiesced, watching her as she tightened it into place while simultaneously hooking a stethoscope into her ear.
“Same thing,” he muttered vaguely as the response floated across his conscious. Her watch had a brown leather strap and a gold face. It wasn’t large, but it was a design originally intended for a man. The pad of her thumb, the only part of her touching him, burned into his skin in the way a needle never did.
“Shall I just read the list? Wait…” Molly placed her fingers lightly on his shoulder as she spoke, stopping him as he went to reach into his pocket. “Don’t make it any worse.”
He watched her face. Waited for the dawn. She swallowed - it looked uncomfortable - as she removed the pressure cuff and instead held his wrist to read his pulse. Sherlock took the deepest breath he could, made the exhalation as long as possible. She eyed him, turned over his hand in hers and pinched the skin on the back.
If the dawning of the day looked as wretched as the dread realisation on the face of someone about whom you cared, no one would rise before it. Molly sat again, taking the piece of paper he proffered, slowly looking over it.
“What… what colour…?”
“You don’t want to know.” She really didn’t. Even he had been shocked looking down into the bowl that morning.
Molly folded the list. And again. She handed it back to him, keeping her eyes on it as if it were some sort of grenade, liable to detonate with one wrong move.
The reverence with which she treats your life.
“Will you help me, Molly?”
“What am I supposed to say?”
Molly looked into his face. For once, sitting in front of him, her eyeline was level with his. A tumble of feeling which had no business interfering with her work filled her up. For God’s sake, get a grip, woman. This is beyond serious. She straightened her back, just as he spoke.
“Oh I don’t know - you’ve seen healthier people on the slab - that ought to do it.”
“Sherlock,” Molly stopped him heading back down that route. “I will help you.” She reached over and took his hand between hers, astonished still more by how cold his skin was, how prominent the knuckles, despite the slight oedema. A sickening shiver went through her.
“I’ll have you sectioned.”
“Unless you agree to just be admitted like a normal person.”
“Molly, don’t be ridiculous!” he slipped his hand out from within hers, passed it over his mouth, a faltering smile beneath.
“Me stop being ridiculous?”
“I… I haven’t got time!”
“Oh, so you do realise how bad it is.”
“I do, yes, it’s you who doesn’t.”
“Well tell me then!” Molly shouted. Her heart was racing, her breathing fast. Sherlock’s too. Well, she couldn’t really comment on the state of his heart, except that it was really, really not okay. “Tell me what this is all about. Unlike you, I can’t look at a coat, three little black something-or-others, some random house in suburbia and…a… someone who is clearly on a suicide mission and deduce what the hell is going on!”
Molly heard her voice crack and it made her livid. With herself and with him. She covered her face with her hands, wanting to hide. For years her fondest wish had been to be whatever he wanted, whatever he needed. Now, she was desperate to be anything but. He had told her what she was going to do for him and here she was proving him right. Again.
“Don’t you see?” his voice was low, small, the anger and the bravado completely gone. Molly looked at him, really looked, searched for the signs she was being given the next act in the performance. But all she saw was him. “You of all people - can you not understand? If I don’t get this right, I will die. And it won’t be the drugs that do it. And I’ll tell you something else, Molly. John won’t be long after me.”
His eyes were less dull now than they had been because they were wet. Molly didn’t like that. The whites of them were bloodshot, the pupils unnaturally, unmovingly dilated. She really didn’t like that. The look in them was pleading, friend-to-friend, human-to-human, and they were desperate. How she felt about that might be the death of her.
“I still don’t…” she stopped herself. Forced a deep breath. “What do you need me to do, Sherlock?”
“Just…” he began, the trace of something Molly barely ever saw appearing and vanishing in the time it took her stupid heart to skip a beat. “Just… make sure John knows I’m not lying to him. And if you could make it look like you’re… concerned… about me – on my behalf – I would be grateful.”
Molly shook her head. “I won’t be faking, Sherlock.”
He stilled. Molly became sharply aware that this was the smallest space she had ever shared with him. Something which was more, greater than the two of them filled up the rest of it. Perhaps it was history. Perhaps it was something else.
“I know,” he said.
Molly felt herself falling forwards. As quickly, she was jolted back. The ambulance had stopped.
“I need some air,” she said. She stood and shoved open the rear doors, really quite shocked for a moment that the bright, ordinary day beyond hadn’t descended into fiery chaos.
“There is one more thing,” Sherlock said from behind her. She turned to him.
“Tell Lestrade about the ‘little black something-or-others’.”
“No – God, no – last thing I need is him shambling in and ruining everything just when it’s about to get good,” Molly watched Sherlock revert – it was almost as if she could see a horizontal beam pass up the length of him. He swung his legs up onto the trolley, stuck his hand behind his head and laid back. Molly dug her nails into her palm. “I trust you to know when. And it’s four, not three. Keep your phone with you, just in case you’re needed later,” he added.
“Anything else? Can the NHS give you another lift across town, perhaps?”
“No need. This nonsense should be dealt with quickly, though I suppose we will have to go inside for a few tedious moments even though I will already have everything I need. I will go straight to the hospital afterwards. I promise.”
His eyes were closed anyway, so Molly had turned to allow herself to practically gulp fresh air through the open door, unbuttoning her cardi to ease the terrible sense of claustrophobia. At this, though, she snapped her head back to look at him.
“You… you promise?”
He lifted his head. “Oh yes.”
Molly saw the limo turn into the waiting area a couple of minutes later and took a deep breath. No amount of faith in Sherlock’s admittedly staggering ability should override her instinct to slam the doors in the opening of which she now sat, jump into the front and bark at Alex to drive them to Bart’s and not to be careful about it. Heck, she should shove her colleague into the passenger seat and drive herself! Sending Sherlock back out onto the streets dishevelled and with a stinging in his cheeks which was only half of what he deserved, was one thing. Watching him walk away like this… could she bear it?
The black car drew up, all mirrored windows and besuited driver like something from a bloody film – who did they think they were? The driver opened the door and John got out.
“If I don’t get this right, I will die. And it won’t be the drugs that do it. And I’ll tell you something else, Molly. John won’t be long after me.”
Molly couldn’t look at her friend, couldn’t bear to see the rawness and hopelessness and she absolutely did not want, not even for a second, to be forced to think of Rosie. What do I do, Mary? Do I play along or do I stop this now, while they’re both still here?
John strode over towards her. Molly’s throat was tight; she could barely scrape a full breath past the lump which had lodged there. John trusts me with his most precious thing – Rosie. Sherlock trusts me…and he did promise. Should I return the favour? What if I ruin everything…?
“Well, how is he?” John demanded of her.
“Basically fine,” Sherlock cut in. What was that about trusting her? Miserable anxiety morphed as seamlessly as ever into the sort of anger which could rob her of words. This time, though, she had some to hand – how fortunate! And so he got his way.
“I’ve seen healthier people on the slab.”
“Yeah but to be fair, you work with murder victims, they’re usually quite young.”
“Not funny.” Swine! Don’t trust your strung-out brain to come up with a one-liner without a set up? If you think I’m going to turn on the waterworks now…
“A little bit funny.”
Molly could hear her own heart. “If you keep taking what your taking, at the rate you’re taking it, you’ve got weeks.”
Well, it was true. Okay John needed to hear it for whatever divine purpose Sherlock had in mind, but he needed to hear it too. Weeks. Optimistic. For whose sake? Oh God.
“Exactly – weeks! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” he practically fell out of the door past her. Had she agreed to being provoked into the reaction he could apparently rely on her to present? Of course she had, she’d signed on the dotted line when she parroted his script. Good God, she’d signed herself away a long time before that!
“For Christ’s sake, Sherlock, it’s not a game!”
Fuck this. Why him? Why always him? Why did everyone always come for him? Why did he go looking for everyone? Why did Mary have to leave? Why did he have to promise? Why couldn’t John forgive? Why did Sherlock need to be forgiven? Does he have to die? Does she have to watch that? Why is it his life which has to be traded every fucking time?
“I’m worried about you Molly, you seem very stressed.”
“I’m stressed. You’re dying.” The first only might kill her.
“Yeah, well I’m ahead then,” Molly turned away from him. She’d given him what he needed. “Stress can ruin every day of your life, dying can only ruin one.”
Oh yeah? How about every single day of those two years, Sherlock? How many years does it add up to if you pile up mine, John’s and everyone else’s? What about every day of every year I’ve been without my dad?
You’re selective – how true – you choose what to remember and what to disregard…
“You never could resist, could you?” Molly asked him.
“Playing with stuff you shouldn’t – you do it all the time.”
“Your life, in this instance.”
He flinched as her needle pierced his enflamed skin. Typical of him to let the wound get into this mess before he stopped being too bloody busy and important and got help. She apologised for hurting him. If someone painted his portrait now, sat in her bathroom, with a split lip and swollen right eye to go with the gash in his side, it would have to be entitled ‘A Study in Pig-headedness.’
“It’s mine to do with as I please,” sharpness and curt, annoyed with the world.
A bark of a laugh had escaped her. “Is that really what you think?”
“I don’t think, I know.”
Molly shook her head, laid her left hand flat on his skin above the cut as she worked.
“Well, I know different. So try and keep your hands off it.”
“… Thirty feet and closing, the most significant undetected serial killer in British criminal history…”
Molly had barely been able to concentrate on John when he addressed her moments before but when Sherlock’s voice took on that determined tone and startling pace she was compelled to bring her focus back to him. Serial killer? Molly looked past Sherlock at Culverton Smith, that bloke off the telly, who she’d met once at a ward opening at Bart’s, before this hospital was refurbished.
“… help me bring him down.”
“What? What plan?” John wasn’t following. Were any of them? What the hell are you doing, Sherlock. In this state? You’re no match for yourself just now.
“I’m not telling you?”
“Because you won’t like it.”
Molly heard John take a breath at the same time as her. She felt giddiness rising as the inevitable barrelled towards them all and the pressure of a final choice built.
The instant Culverton Smith’s despicably smarmy voice formed his name relief flooded Sherlock’s system. Two sets of shoulders dropped and squared, infinitesimally. Two pairs of eyes looked past him. Two faces switched in a nano-second to impassiveness, each unique to catalogue but unified in intention.
No one else facing John Watson and Molly Hooper would read any of it. Only him. They weren’t with him, not yet. But they were willing. Or perhaps unwilling. Unwilling to let go their tenuous, multi-way hold. Unwilling to let anyone outside of the fortress they had built spot a chink in its defences.
Belongingness is a powerful, powerful thing.
Will our craving of it be enough?
Will we return?
Moments later, Sherlock took his first step away from Molly Hooper. What he had told her had been the truth; he was selective. He couldn’t choose what he remembered, but he could choose where to focus. He turned, found her eyes.
I trust you.
You may see me again.
I might never see you again.
This might be the last time I look at you.
The last time I can see you and cannot make myself heard.
The last words we might ever speak were in anger…
More than anger.
And not anger at all.
Molly’s lips parted, she shifted as if in the same want of action neither of them were able to describe or perform. Sherlock turned away.
All or nothing.
They deserve nothing less.